2016 Gathering Report: A Shared Story
We set out as an organization to hold our first ‘official’ gathering over four days in the beautiful Temescal Gateway Park nestled in the Pacific Palisades just outside Los Angeles. We endeavored to bring together around 70-100 leaders of youth initiatory experiences from LA County, across the United States, and around the world to “build a foundation,” supporting each other and the work as a whole. We ended up with a diverse group of folks, 25% of whom were from Los Angeles, which was in line with our target. You can see our full demographics and participant list HERE.
Intentions: Early on in our gathering, participants were asked to offer their own intentions. Here are some of the responses:
The Process: Over a year in the dreaming, planning, and execution, the Los Angeles gathering was the result of design by consensus. It’s important to underline this fact, as often those three words are used to describe why something wasn’t able to meet expectations. There is not one piece of the gathering that can be attributed to any one person. Instead, each piece is a result of the power, spirit, efficacy, and, yes, challenge! of a truly effective collaboration and consensus.
An important part of our process was a Pre-Gathering Webinar. Hosted by the Youth Passageways Cross-Cultural Protocols working group, this webinar provided an opportunity to share the history of Youth Passageways and key opportunities and challenges of previous gatherings, share the Youth Passageways Guiding Principles in Cross-Cultural Protocols (put into practice for the first time as a large community at this gathering), providing some basic history and context of place for the gathering in Los Angeles. The Webinar also asked participants to prepare for the gathering by furthering their knowledge of their own ancestral traditions. This all underscored a key premise of the Gathering: we were all there as co-creators of a shared experience.
Day One – Listening to the Voices of Our Ancestors: Arrivals came by air, rental car, shuttle, carpool, and bus from many places both near and far , including Baltimore, Hawaii, British Columbia, Sweden, and Missouri. After settling in, Marcus Lopez (community organizer with Barbareno Chumash Council) oriented us with the history of the place and its people. After shared prayer and blessing, we took some time to walk the land and let it seep into us before coming back together for dinner. We opened the evening by formally asking permission for Youth Passageways to gather on Chumash land with prayers, songs, and blessings, and the co-creation of our Ancestry Altar. Even with our group size of around seventy people, we were able to hear each voice share what they brought to the altar, inviting our many ancestors to be with us for our time together.
Day Two – Tending to the Humanity of the Circle: The first full day began with blessings and announcements as we continued to soak into how we would be together. Kruti Parekh & Ashanti Branch, our facilitators for the first half of the day, invited us to write our intentions, led us through a movement exercise, and helped us develop our shared agreements, expanding on the pre-gathering agreements drafted by the Design & Facilitation team. We were then invited to divide into cultural affinity groups based on shared. We discussed how and why initiation practices had been lost by our respective blood ancestors, and which pieces remained. The groups were: European (two groups), African, people from the Americas, Asian/Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, and Other. Dividing up this way brought forward many emotions, and provided a potent way to dive into our growing relationships. Afterward, each group shared a report, taking us through lunch and into the early afternoon.
Frederick Marx and Marjorie Jean were our afternoon facilitators and invited us to break up into random small groups. We gathered in these groups all across the land and spent time really grounding with each other, taking the previous conversation even further. These groups focused on the following questions: How and at what point did we lose our respective rites of passage? What story is each of us carrying? What kind of future are we calling in?
After dinner, we held a water ceremony for everyone who wished to attend. This ceremony, as is true of much of the ceremony at Youth Passageways, emerged out of the unique moment, what had transpired during the gathering so far, and the unique offerings of those that were gathered. Facilitated by Sobey Wing and Pinar Sinopoulos-Lloyd, the ceremony highlighted “the Elephant in the Room,” and invited those present to give voice to their pain and wounds: the “Elephants” they experience in their lives. We experimented as a community with centering folks whose perspectives are often most marginalized by inviting them to speak first (indigenous people, people of color, LGBTQ+). This was an evening that dove headfirst into deep and powerful pain, voicing the corrosive effects of power, privilege, and colonization on our world, and how those effects can show up within our circles. Northern Cheyenne elder and Youth Passageways Stewardship Council member Sharon Bearcomesout-Blackwolf, assisted by Young Warrior Militiza Tapia, led a prayer and water blessing to close out our evening, helping us to give our pain over to the land and make way for what still lay ahead of us.
Day Three – Amplifying the Movement: The second full day was no less full and intense than the previous. K-Rahn Vallantine and Judy Piazza organized a series of several different breakout sessions for folks to choose from. This was an opportunity for those who attended the gathering to share their work and learn from one another. The breakout sessions included:
- Street Poets Presents – The Poetry of Initiation: Chris Henrickson, Mayda Del Valle, Marjorie Jean, Frank Escamilla, Art Quiros and Street Poets Youth
- Warrior Films’ Rites of Passage film viewing & discussion – Frederick Marx
- Youth Passageways Cross-Cultural Protocols Working Group – Sobey Wing, Ramon Parish, Darcy Ottey
- Ancestral Knowledge – Luis Rodriguez
- The Rite of Dance – Ramon Parish & Melissa Michaels
- Collaborative Rites of Passage Los Angeles – Miguel Rivera & many other LA folks
- “TAKING OFF THE MASK” – A workshop to Get REAL , Ashanti Branch
- The Ecological & Cultural Role of the Queer – So & Pinar Pınar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd, Clementine Wilson, and Morgan Rebane
- It Takes a Village – Rich Robinson
- Initiation & Mythology – Darren Silver
- Men Supporting Boys Rites of Passage – Brad Smith with Others
- Blessing & Beauty Youth Track – Kruti Parekh with Genaro Ulloa
- Amplification, Credibility, and Funding: How do we mobilize needed resources to support meaningful initiation for young people in our communities and beyond? Grant Abert on behalf of Youth Passageways Stewardship Council
- Ancestral Reconnection: Luis Rodriguez
- Rediscovering our past to strengthen our work: Megan Chandler
- Vision Fasts in the 21st Century: Miguel Rivera
At the same time, for many, Saturday was largely focused on preparing to open our doors for a larger public event. While relatively small and modest, this evening marked a seminal moment in Youth Passageways’ development as a network, family, and social movement: it was the first time YPW opened its doors to the wider world, for anyone who wanted to attend. The evening brought people from all over Los Angeles to Temescal Canyon to experience an evening of sharing and reflection on the work we do and what our youth need in the world. Marcus Lopez and his son, Chimiway, sang songs they work to preserve; Young Warriors Militza Tapia and Vianey Moreno (who co-designed and facilitated the evening) spoke powerfully about their own journeys; Luis J. Rodriguez, Los Angeles Poet Laureate, offered thoughtful words; and host partners shared performances and offerings that gave us a sense for the style and breadth of their work. All in all, the evening marked a milestone for Youth Passageways. It’s safe to say we will never be the same again.
Day Four – Reflection and Action: The last morning began with movement held by Melissa Michaels who helped us begin to work out some of the energy and tension that had built up in our bodies throughout such an intense weekend. Ramon Parish and Joshua Gorman then facilitated a spiral fishbowl council, in which each person speaking waits until the person that comes after has finished before getting up. This was an important and well-suited format for us to begin to synthesize what had transpired during our time together. After this, we turned our attention to Youth Passageways as a body. Darcy and Dane, along with the Stewardship Council and Guardians, spoke to the tension of an often ‘digital’ network, and the opportunities coming out of this in-person gathering. After a break to eat and digest we stood to form a circle and invited those called to take steps forward in commitment to the shared vision of this dream of Youth Passageways.
As we looked to closing, our witnesses, J. Miakoda Collins and Favio Lopez, offered their reflections. Youth Passageways Guardians, Gigi Coyle and Orland Bishop, helped facilitate our closing while Francisco (Frank) Escamilla called the youth into the center. They were then surrounded by elders and all the rest of us as we sang in prayer and blessing on their well-being. And so our time together came to an end…
Common Themes & Questions: Over our days together we saw many themes begin to emerge that inform not only the time we shared, but what questions are important to live into moving forward. Just a few of many were:
- What is the role of young people when we gather, and in our network as a whole?
- How do we continue to listen to the role of place when we come together?
- How are we living into the dance between naming/healing our wounds and growing ourselves as a community of practice?
- What are the opportunities to bring gender and Non-Conforming Gender Roles more fully and inclusively into our network?
Take Away: We made mistakes. Things were missed. Wounds were opened maybe a bit wider than expected. Yet we can firmly say: We are changed. We had a vision that was fed by past experience: the experience of not knowing how to ask permission, of not quite knowing how cultures would but up against each other. So we set out to ask permission from the people indigenous to the land on which we gathered, and to be with and support them in good ways. We did that, and it could be felt. We also set out to pull off a public event, a marshaling of resources that would move us further into the future. Given the many learning opportunities we encountered, it was made clear that to open up rites of passage is also to open up the cultures from which they come. There is a good deal of work to be done, and we’re ready to do it – together, as a community and a family.
Quotes From Our Participants:
“Even though a lot of us came in not knowing what to expect and were surprised by what was happening, the team was able to hold space and facilitate things very smoothly. It was just great to see them calm and collected; it made me feel calm and made me begin to trust them and trust the space that I can speak up and really feel heard.”
-Viviana Martin Del Campo, Street Poets Youth
“As a non-profit leader and someone who helms a volunteer run organization, it’s so crucial to bringing people together to learn not only how to be passionate with our words but just as importantly with our resources. As I continue to bring my organization and youth further into this organization it’s going to be necessary to find more contributors who want to help Youth Passageways grow.”
-Ashanti Branch, Ever Forward Club
Next Steps – Immediate next steps and needs include:
- Translating the energy of our circle into partnerships and collaborations. We want to partner with YOU. Find out more HERE or reach out via email
- Convening ongoing relationships with Los Angeles and Youth Passageways and supporting the LA community in doing so themselves. Interested in the efforts already underway? Contact our Stewardship Council member Kruti Parekh HERE
- Hiring an Outreach Coordinator to bring our coming projects and priorities into their full potential.
- Looking to Colorado in the fall of 2017. Want to learn more? Contact us HERE
Without Many Hands None of This Would Have Been Possible! Thank you From Youth Passageways!
The gathering cost $33,063, nearly a quarter less than we anticipated. Our goal for this gathering was always at base to break even which we nearly did. Our income came in at $30,500. $13,000 of that was in fees and another $12,500 in donations via our scholarship campaign [our most successful single contributor campaign in the history of YPW!] $5,000 of that has been pledged from the California Wellness Foundation. In addition, we were able to offer scholarships to 17 individuals from across the globe!
Individual & Organizational Financial Donations:
Tom Rumpf, Michael Kieran, School of Lost Borders, Alexis Slutsky, Carla Pryne, Carol Wishcamper, Anonymous, Christina Chorafas, David Friedman, David Confino, Deborah Gunther, Des Fitzgerald, Fidel Rodriguez, Frederic Pjie, Anonymous, Heidi Erhardt, James Blaine, John Cook, Kate Bunney, Katherine Brown, Kathleen Redmond & Gary Johnson, Kruti Parekh, Krystyna Jurzykowski, Larry Hobbs, Laura Whitney, Arin Miller Memorial Fund, Leslie Dills, Nathan Roberts, Ralph Alpert, Roger & Margot Milliken, Susanna Knittel, Yvan Rytz, Janet Keating, Kalliopeia Foundation, Kailo Fund, California Wellness Foundation, Ananda Fund, RSF AnJel Fund, Beyond Boundaries & Gigi Coyle
Los Angeles Host Organizations:
Street Poets Inc, Youth Mentoring, The Ojai Foundation, Council in Schools, Tia Chucha’s Young Warriors, Spreading Seeds Wellness Center & the Youth Justice Coalition
Individual In-kind Donations/Volunteer Time:
Marcus Lopez & his Son, Kruti Parekh, Darcy Ottey, Sobey Wing, Marjorie Jean, Fidel Rodriguez, Ramon Parish, Melissa Michaels, Gigi Coyle, Orland Bishop, Vianey Moreno, Milly Tapia, Dane Zahorsky, Marisa Taborga Byrne, the Many volunteers of Youth Mentoring, Jenn Oestreich, Asa Henderson, Violet Soto, Laura Palomares, Marc Rosner, Mayra Zaragoza, Luis Rodriguez, Mayda Del Valle, Ashanti Branch, Orland Bishop, Sharon Bearcomesout, Frederick Marx, Chris Henrickson, Joshua Gorman, K-Rahn Vallantine, J. Miakoda Taylor, Judy Piazza, Glenn Schiffman, Miguel Rivera, Favio Lovos, Grant Abert, Clementine Wilson, Siri Gunnarson
& of course the Elephant in the Room
Full participant list HERE